Spread out tables, limited seating, and lots of hand sanitizer and masks; restaurants across Georgia were allowed to reopen and offer dine-in service on Monday after Governor Brian Kemp controversially eased the state’s social distancing restrictions.
“A lot of people, I think, want to get back to the new normal, which will be social distancing and all that,” Chris Heithaus, manager of 87 Waffle House restaurants in Georgia and the Carolinas, told the Associated Press, adding, “But they will be able to eat inside the restaurant.”
The majority of restaurants did not reopen but a few—including Waffle House’s 330 chain restaurants and more than 10 other restaurants in the Atlanta metro area—did, despite backlash from health officials and users online; “This is a really bad idea—I hope you are paying your workers extra and protect them,” said one user in response to a post on Instagram from Rocky Mountain Pizza announcing their reopening.
For those that did reopen, though, it wasn’t life as normal: Restaurants are required to adhere to a set of 39 guidelines laid out by the state government, including a mandate that all employees wear masks, owners screen employees for signs of illness, and restrictions on the amount of customers allowed inside at the same time.
Health officials, and even President Trump, had disparaged Kemp’s decision to allow restaurants, as well as gyms, barber shops and tattoo parlors to reopen, arguing it was too much too soon. “That could be setting us back,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with the New York Times last Tuesday, referring to Georgia’s decision.
But Kemp pressed ahead anyway, characterizing the decision as cautious: “I think this is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp said at a news conference last week.
The owner of a restaurant in Georgia that took the controversial step to reopen told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he was doing so because if not now, when?
“This is not about us trying to maximize our revenue,” Dennis McKinley, owner of the Original Hot Dog Factory in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We know that we have got to, at some point, get back to our everyday lives.”
Still, McKinley added that he was still figuring out how to reduce contact between customers and employees, a sign of the go-it-alone approach some business owners feel they will have to take despite the guidelines issued by the state government.
“We’re going to have to reinvent the way we serve people,” McKinley said. “A new term might be ‘contactless server’ as we are engaging in a new restaurant world that begins in Atlanta (this) week.”
What we don’t know
The protocols restaurants will need to develop to keep restaurant-goers safe. There are many questions left unanswered, such as what to do with menus when a customer is done using them, or how to keep chefs safe in the tight confines of a kitchen, as the New York Times
“This is a dress rehearsal for the entire country,” said Bo Peabody, a member of the Georgia Restaurant Association to WSB-TV, a local Atlanta TV station. “If this goes well, I think most restaurants in Atlanta will be open by the middle of May. If it doesn’t, then I think the whole country will be set back by a month or two. That’s the risk.”
“I, as a chef and restaurateur, refuse to have the people I employ and work with used as sacrificial lambs for an economic uptick that is far from guaranteed anyway,” writes Hugh Acheson, chef and owner of several restaurants in Georgia, in the Washington Post.
Governors face a tough call in deciding when to reopen their state’s economy. On the one hand, the stay-at-home orders have crippled the economy. On the other, health officials maintain that social distancing restrictions have saved lives and are necessary for slowing the spread of a virus.
Officials advise that any steps taken to reopen the economy must be done slowly and be accompanied by widespread testing to trace and control outbreaks. Kemp is not alone in announcing plans to reopen. Alaska, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee and South Carolina have all partially reopened.
Restaurants not ready to reopen dining rooms despite Kemp’s go-ahead (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
I’m an Activist. I love justice and equality, love beyond colors, and oneness that transcends borders. Welcome to my world.